Chinese Android tablet - worth it?
January 23, 2019 9:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of buying a Chinese brand tablet (Chuwi / Teclast / Alldocube) from a site like AliExpress or BangGood, but am worried about the process; can you give me personal stories (or trustable testimonials) pro or con?

I'm not a heavy user of a tablet; I mostly use them as an occasional e-reader, and more heavily during travel, for reading / movies / internet on something more pleasant (and with a second battery) than my phone. But I cracked the screen on my existing Nvidia Shield and need a new one. I'm specifically looking around the 8 inch size range.

Right now, the options I see (note I'm in Canada and in Canadian dollars) are either current major brand tablets usually in the $400+ range, or 2 or 3 year old models in the $200 range. The standard cheap tablet rec, the Kindle Fire series, aren't great for me -- I'm trying to minimize my Amazon usage (no Prime, no Kindle books), and my library's e-reader app is reported to be broken.

The Chinese brands seem to have specs (processor, storage, screen quality, wifi, Android version) similar to the current major brand tablets, but prices in the $200 range, so I'm really considering going for one, maybe a Chuwi Hi9 Pro or a Teclast T8 or M89. Am I missing something? Am I setting myself up for heartbreak? Or am I just getting a good deal?
posted by Homeboy Trouble to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I bought a cheap Chinese Android tablet from a drop shipper many years ago, but I'd guess my experience is still relevant. My motivation was much the same as yours: For 1/4 the price, I got similar specs to a flagship tablet.

The experience was mixed. Overall, I was happy with it, but there were some serious drawbacks:

1. The Google ecosystem is non-existent in China, so although it came with an English-language Android, I had to install the Google Play store from an APK and then install the rest of the Google stuff.
2. No support. There will be no OS updates, no security patches, and good luck finding help on an English-language forum if you have a problem. You're on your own.
3. Battery life was terrible. This is one area where the manufacturer had clearly cut costs.
4. Cheap, low-speed storage. Even though it had a powerful CPU for its day, overall performance was hampered by bargain basement solid state storage.

It had a great display, though. I used it mostly for web browsing.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:23 AM on January 23, 2019

If you are even a little tech-y and willing to monkey around with things, it's pretty simple to root a Kindle Fire and install whatever non-Amazon system launcher you want. I've done it to my Fire, and it's pretty seamless, though I've had to "re-root" it once after, I assume, some over-the-air update caused some problems.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I bought one in 2010 for under $50 and I used it to watch videos and read ebooks. I was lucky that there was an existing ROM written by a third party that I installed via sd card. That improved the UI and allowed me to install from the old android app store. I know when the Google Play Store took over, the app was more difficult to set up and use.
posted by soelo at 11:59 AM on January 23, 2019

Absolutely not, they lie about *all* the specs, storage, ram, processor etc. Quality control is poor to non existent, as is returns capability, when it breaks you're screwed. They don't play nice with android, they are filled with bloatware and random junky apps, some more suspicious than's not worth it.

/bought a cheap tablet to save money, actually wasted money cause it was useless
posted by smoke at 12:18 PM on January 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you're willing to look at older models, there are Android tablets available from Factory Direct (Canadian store). They carry both well known and less well-known brands, starting at about $20-50 and going up from there. You'll want to double check the specifications and what flavour of Android they are running; newer apps (like the one from your local library) may not be available on some older versions of Android. That said, if you have a desktop, you can always download your library books and process them through Calibre to read them in another app.
posted by jb at 12:18 PM on January 23, 2019

(I bought a Kobo mini from Factory Direct a few years ago: it was (still is) excellent and exactly as advertised, just 1-2 years old and not available from Chapters/Indigo any more.)
posted by jb at 12:20 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

First, figure out which custom firmware you want to run. (With vanishingly few exceptions, the OEM firmware is garbage, is infested with bloatware and/or doesn't get timely updates.) I like LineageOS. Here are some alternatives.

Then, see what devices are well-supported by that firmware, and what custom bootloaders you can use on each, and how painful the install process looks.

That should narrow down the list of reasonable devices to where you can effectively comparison-shop.

I think you'd have a better experience with something like the venerable Nexus 7 (2013) (which you can get refurbished for under US$100) than you would with some off-brand boat anchor. I think smoke was right on the money re: lies about specs and wastes of money.
posted by sourcequench at 1:01 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had been considering upgrades to my Nexus 7 for many years. There was nothing being manufactured in the Android tablet market that seemed worth it. Even though I'm an Android fan and don't particularly like iOS, I couldn't beat the value of the current iPad. $300 for a well-built, well supported device with an excellent screen and great battery life.
posted by demiurge at 3:24 PM on January 23, 2019

I recently bought an Asus Z8s on ebay - they're currently $125 to $150 for a refurb or open box (I got a refurb - haven't had any issues) - and it's all in all a decent 8" tablet, which I use in the same way you intend. It's a "Verizon exclusive", but I just use it with wifi so it's Verizon-ness doesn't have any impact (beyond a Verizon welcome screen).
posted by 7 Minutes of Madness at 8:19 PM on January 23, 2019

I have bought both a teclast (not the model you're considering, and a cube (not alldocube). In my opinion teclast is far better quality than chuwi, though I have not personally owned a chuwi. Banggood is where I bought. I've bought other things from AliExpress.

If I were you I'd order the tablet from banggood, though if you're careful AliExpress would work too.

Other than long shipping time, I'd say go for it. I'm stupidly happy with my cube and the teclast was even better and I wish I hadn't given it away.

My cube is a Windows 10 tablet and four times the machine I could have afforded here. It's a Windows surface clone and runs ten times better than my brother-in-law's surface.

I DID manage to thoroughly hose my install of Windows (I like to tinker), and had to use Google translate on Chinese sites to download another that had drivers for the tab. It wasn't hard. If it had been less new I could have found it on the tech tablets website though. I suggest you check out tech tablets for reviews, and read the forums to see what troubleshooting is like if you run into problems. Buy a case with your Chinese tab, because finding a fit here in the US is annoying.

Honestly I think the suspicion of all Chinese goods is xenophobia from people who expect apple quality for pennies and are offended when they don't get it. You can save real money, but stick with major brands like teclast and pay a little more and you will get both a deal and quality.

Do keep in mind that if you are spectacularly unlucky (like I have been with major brands like Samsung in the US), the return process to China would be long and annoying.
posted by liminal_shadows at 6:42 AM on January 25, 2019

if you want a specific recommendation for a cheap tablet, I have a ZTE phone and have been very happy with it - they have a tablet I see around at a very good price.

I've been using my phone for about 3 years now and it's only just now starting to have a few battery problems in our cold canadian winters.

I have had lots of chinese-made smartphones in the last decade, Ulephones and Elephones and others with names I can't remember, and the ZTE is really well made and reliable compared to some of the random brands I've tried!
posted by euphoria066 at 11:02 AM on January 25, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers everyone - they were helpful in thinking about what I wanted.

In the end, I went to a store to see a few tablets in the flesh and fell in love a little with the thinness of the Galaxy S2, so I wound up going with a more premium tablet after all. But you all were helpful!
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:14 AM on January 28, 2019

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